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I joined my friend Jay on his daily trip out into the hill countryside with a rural healthcare mobile clinic. We picked up a volunteer doctor first, then a staff nurse, and headed out a steep, bumpy road to a remote agricultural valley inhabited by poor farmworkers where there was no access to health care. Local farms grow potatoes, beans, carrots and peas- the land is owned by large landowners and farmed by very poor agricultural workers. The area is magnificent with steep hillsides covered with neatly terraced, emerald green farms and waterfalls.
We stopped first in Poombarai , where Jay’s non-profit organization rents a large building with a very simple clinic and upstairs rooms for classes and crafts. This clinic supplements the local public health clinic, and both are mostly staffed by nurses.
In the past they have made unsuccessful attempts to teach women handicraft skills- the staff didn’t have the knowledge or time to market the products and interest was lost. There is potential, the staff say, for a more concerted effort to train women and help them market their products, but it will take time, effort and planning. The baskets women made recently never got sold.
Then we drove on to a more remote village which they visit only once a week. Twenty five patients stepped one by one into the van and talked to the doctor about their complaints, some returning for second visits and others brand new. Women complained of sore hips, legs and arms; they work for hours in the fields doing heavy manual labor, and the doctor didn’t have much to say in response to these problems. Several adults and children had colds and coughs. A couple older people were checking in with chronic diabetes or heart problems. One very small 14 year old boy had bowed legs, a crooked hand, and a concave chest- he had rickets. The doctor said rickets was unusual now and gave the mother calcium and vitamin C. He advised more milk and eggs, but could they afford it? Apparently the damage was already done.
The nurse stood at a van window and handed our packets of medications from a box. There wasn’t much education provided- just meds. I can imagine that medical personnel have resigned themselves to the abject poverty and isolation of these families and hope only to help alleviate some of their symptoms. In the case of an acute issue, they can call the distant hospital for an ambulance, and the patients do receive free care at the hospital. It was sad, though, to see how limited these families’ resources are, how hard they work, and how grateful they are for a little attention and care. The boy with rickets had the most beaming smile and handsome face. I hope he finds escape somehow from the hard manual labor of this farming community.